when we can’t save

It’s been more than three months now since we got the call. Precious H, one of our youth group kids, had been struggling for some time. Just the week before we’d made the trek to San Antonio to visit her at a behavioral health center. I naively assumed that this was a successful intervention—she was safe, and she would rejoin us soon. I didn’t even press the issue when Cameron’s name was the only one on the visitation list, so he went in with all the cards and greetings and hugs and love and I waited patiently in the lobby.

So the call  a week later knocked me flat. That something had happened, that she was nearly gone, that she wouldn’t be coming home after all. The whole week became a horrible, brain-numbing blur.

The accusations came immediately—not from any physical person, but from the accuser who will always pounce on hurting hearts. How had I not noticed this trajectory sooner? What else could I have written in my card that would have inspired more hope? Why hadn’t I done more, said more, loved her better?

There is a unique ache that follows a suicide—the distinct twisting of yourself against you, the crushing self reflection, your own accusing finger turned to poke and prod the open wound. And three months later, the numbness has settled but the questions still shift and stir in my thinking.

The truth is, we are capable of so little.

The truth is, for all the hurting children I would so love to be able to help, so much remains outside of my influence or control. 

The truth is, we don’t have the power to save.

But there is still a Savior.

This week we were at another behavior health facility, visiting another dear one. I’m thankful for the safety she has been granted in that place, and thankful for the good time we were able to have talking and laughing in the cafeteria behind multiple locked doors. But Cameron and I aren’t her saviors—we can’t fix what goes on in her heart and mind, the things happening behind the scenes with CPS, the lies that so easily twist the way she thinks and sees the world.

All we can do is love, really. Speak truth in the moments where opportunity is afforded, give hugs and affirmation during the short time we have, and pray to the One who saves.

Thank God for providing us a Savior. Thank God that H knew him, and he knew her. Thank God that he is at work in all our inadequacies, in all our kids’ lives, loving more perfectly and working more steadily than we ever could. 

As Cameron and I drove home, we talked about the irony of ministry—that somehow, we wind up with the thinking that this work, this pouring into hurting lives, will be full of Hollywood moments and breakthroughs and that things will feel ultimately good. But most of it doesn’t feel good. Most of it hurts. In the midst of similar thoughts during my time in ministry in Uganda, I scribbled these words in my journal:

The eyes are the window
to pain that would otherwise escape me;
things that would go conveniently unnoticed
in my sterile glass cage with fifty rooms.
They say that love never fails,
but I know some of them see nothing more
than an attempt to assuage my uniquely Western guilt
with a quick dose of caring and compassion.
They miss the great irony of this compassion of mine:
It is not guilt that I desire to drive out, but naive contentment,
and caring isn’t relief; it is agony—
the pain of sights that will never be unseen.
And yet beyond the weight of this new ground-shaking knowledge
there is the undeniable sense that this,
this moment,
is when I am most alive.

Some days I still grapple with my own smallness. And some days there is unspeakable peace in the knowledge that I can humbly hand over these wounded ones, H and the children like her the world over, to the One who knows them and loves them infinitely.

The last time I saw H was at her first and only piano recital. We stopped by HEB on the way, because every little girl deserves flowers at their recital. Her mom didn’t come, but H played beautifully. Cameron and I accompanied her with vocals and strings, and she powered through the nerves for a fantastic performance. Afterward, as we headed for the door, I gave H her flowers and watched her eyes light up. “I love you guys so much,” she said, wrapping me in a big hug. “We love you so much,” I told her. 

And we do. We love and miss you, H, and I am so so thankful that you are in the arms of your one true Savior.





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